The Bank: Charlie and Edna

The Bank
R: Charles Chaplin. K: Harry Ensign. D: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Billy Armstrong, Carl Stockdale, Charles Inslee. P: The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1915
Print: Cineteca Bologna / Lobster

“Charlie the janitor loves Edna, the pretty bank secretary, but her sweetheart is another Charles, the cashier. One of the best of the Chaplin Essanay comedies, the film’s plot is a reworking of his Keystone film, The New Janitor (1914), incorporating a dream sequence inspired by Fred Karno‘s ‘Jimmy the Fearless’. Just as in the Karno sketch – in which Chaplin starred as Jimmy, a downtrodden young man who became a hero in his dreams – in The Bank Charlie dreams he saves Edna in an attempted bank robbery, only to wake up and discover it was a dream. The film’s equivocal ending was new to film comedy, yet such endings became a signature of the Chaplin films.
The memorable close-up of Chaplin in The Bank, when his note and gift of a few flowers to Edna are rejected, anticipates the ending of City Lights (1931). (Chaplin claimed in 1918 that this was his favorite bit in all his comedies). Chaplin brings the camera closer to his actors in this film, and the use of close-ups to convey thought and emotion is notable. The large sets and impressive city exteriors in the film were the result of yet another move by the Chaplin unit. In June 1915, Chaplin arranged for his remaining productions to be based in the larger quarters afforded by the Majestic Studios located at 651 Fairview Avenue in the Boyle Heights, a neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles.”

“Essentially a remake of The Janitor, a movie Chaplin made while he was at Keystone, The Bank sees his character warring with a fellow janitor (Billy ArmstrongA Woman, Work) in the bank at which they’re both employed, while also mistakenly believing that the bank’s stenographer (Edna Purviance –  The Champion, Shoulder Arms) has a crush on him.   Sadly for him, her eye is actually on the bank’s dapper cashier (Carl Stockdale), whose name is also Charlie.
There’s plenty of Chaplin’s customary slapstick in The Bank, but the level of violence is quite restrained compared to some of his other work from this period, and he clearly made an effort to tell a story rather than simply string together a series of loosely connected sketches.  But the story is a strangely disjointed one, which means that The Bank consequently feels like two movies edited together to achieve a respectable running time.   The conventional slapstick is found in Chaplin’s rivalry with Armstrong’s character, while his mistaken belief that the stenographer is in love with him, and the manner in which her true love is brought to light, is loaded with pathos.  It’s almost as if Chaplin really did make The Bank in such a way that, if the plot strands didn’t mesh, they could each be released as separate shorts. There’s no mistaking the increasing sophistication in Chaplin’s comedy, though.  While many of his early shorts had a feeling of spontaneity that sometimes ran dry halfway through, the quality of the humour in The Bank remains consistent throughout, and he even makes use of a running joke which sees him glare accusingly at any piece of carpet that somehow manages to trip him up.”
Richard Cross
20/20 Movie Reviews